I woke up early, grabbed my morning juice and headed out early to check the beaches.

The first shift of guards was doing their morning training before heading out to the towers. For August, it was an unusually rough day with big waves and lots of current. After making sure there was nothing pressing on the seawall and east beaches, I met a couple of my training partners for a workout at Stewart Beach.

After a little more than an hour of swimming, running and paddling, we were making a final lap around Tower 6 when the lifeguard told me there was a possible drowning at 37th Street.

Because of the emergency, the next shift of lifeguard supervisors had gone out to the site of the possible drowning instead of doing their daily routine of swimming and training. The supervisors had the other areas of the beach covered, so I went to see if there was anything I could do to help.

On the way there I listened to things unfolding on our emergency channel.

Capt. Tony Pryor had assumed “incident command” and assigned Lifeguard Maritza Villarreal to be the safety officer. It sounded like lifeguards had been divided into groups and were searching different areas while a Jet Ski had launched and was checking the end of the jetty and relaying commands to the different groups of swimmers.

Arriving on scene I found Tony in the midst of a swirl of choreographed activity on the end of the jetty. Runners checked in as he gave new orders then dashed back to their different groups. As always, he was clearheaded and cool, as he balanced the need to find this person with the need to protect other areas of the beach, the safety of the rescue swimmers and a thousand other variables.

Some of the guards were diving in the hole off the end of the 37th Street jetty, while others combed the shallows using a human chain technique. Still others followed the direction of the current to the next jetty. Senior lifeguards were interviewing people on the beach to try to get more information.

We have classifications for everything. This was right between a “possible drowning” and a “Code X” (witnessed/confirmed drowning). Because it was the start of the shift, Tony had made the decision to err on the side of caution and use the built-in training time to do a full search.

The deal was a guard went out to move a couple of swimmers who were out too far but lost sight of them in the large surf. He swam back to shore and checked with everyone on the beach to see if anyone had seen them come in or if they were missing anyone. One guy said he saw two heads way out but lost sight of them and hadn’t seen them come in.

Turns out the “heads” were pelicans, but what a great way to start off a busy day — with a real life training session.

On the Beach

Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity. Information on the Beach Patrol is at galvestonbeachpatrol.com.

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